News Roundup (Oct. 9, 2006)

Syria, home of the monster camel – twice as large as today’s camel. My favorite story

Swiss and Syrian archaeologists working in Syria’s Palmyra desert claim to have uncovered the remains of a giant camel that lived 100,000 years ago and once stood “as big as a giraffe or an elephant”.

“This is a big discovery, a revolution in science.”  The ancient camel would have stood approximately three metres tall, almost twice the size of modern-day camels, and was apparently killed by humans as it drank from a spring.  It proves that the dromedary camel species existed in the area at a much earlier date than had been previously thought – possibly as much as 90,000 years earlier. Peter Schmid, an anthropologist, said, “This find is sensational as it could help us understand the evolution of the camel,” he said. Evidence of human habitation in Syria dates as far back as 1.5 million years. At the time the giant camel lived, the area would have been savannah grassland, not the desert of today. Are Sunni Syrians really converting to Shiism? A few comments on this next story. There have been sensational reports coming out of Syria that droves of people are converting from Sunni Islam to Shi’a Islam due to Iranian influence. As far as I can tell this is completely untrue. Ellen Knickmeyer went out to find out if this was true, I suspect. She came up with two different stories below. One is a story of Muslims visiting Shiite mosques because they were impressed by Hizbullah and Nasrallah’s defiance of Israel this summer. The second story is of the town of Hatla some 90 miles from the Iraq border in the Jazira. The whole town converted some 5 years ago. This was before the US invasion of Iraq and before Iranian influence began to surge in the region due to the down fall of Saddam. This story has nothing to do with the rumors of recent conversions, which remain completely unverified. We do not know why the people of Hatla converted. Knickmeyer does did not seem to ask them or the answer didn’t fit the story and was cut.

Sunnis converting to Shiites in homage to Nasrallah
Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post
Friday, October 6, 2006; Page A19 (The bits copied below were taken from another paper that chopped the story to its basics)

Many Sunnis convert, join Shiite sect in appreciation of what they see as Hizbullah’s victory against Israel. The war in Lebanon continues to impact the Middle East. The Shiite sect, whose people were persecuted for years in the region, has become popular following the war. In Syria , Sunni Muslims, who compose about 70 percent of the population, have begun adopting Shiite laws  and practices. For most, the motive behind their conversion is not religious but political, done in appreciation for the Shiite Hizbullah organization. 

Mustafah al-Sada, a religious Shiite Muslim, told al-Arabia that many Sunnis are now asking him, “What must I do to become a Shiite?” Al-Sada said that he knows of 75 Sunnis from Damascus who have converted to the Shiite sect since the beginning of the war. 

“George Bush has done us a favor,” said al-Sada, “he has united the Arabs.”
Munir A-Sayed, a 43 year old lawyer says: “I’m Sunni, but I belong to Hasan Nasrallah .”  “I’ve converted politically,” he explained. 

For Wael Khalil, a 21 year old student of international law in Damascus, the change started when he watched the Arab television stations and saw “Hizbullah fighters defeating the Israeli troops easily.” According to Khalil, it was the first time he saw a war that the Arabs were winning. 

Several years ago the residents of the town of Hatla, a five hour drive from Damascus and about 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) from the Sunni Anbar district of Iraq, gathered together and converted their sect from Sunni to Shiite. 

“For five years we feared to announce that we had accepted the Shiite sect,” said one of the men from the village, mentioning that following wider media coverage of Shiites these past few years, primarily in Iraq, the situation has improved. 

According to reports, some officials in Damascus are not pleased with the trend, saying that it’s a sign of Iran’s growing influence in the region. However some political commentators have assessed that the Syrian regime is encouraging the increase in Nasrallah’s popularity to hold up President Bashar Assad’s own. In support of this claim, stickers have surfaced recently with images of Nasrallah and Assad together, as well as images of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

Baker advises Bush to talk to Syria in what could be the beginning of a sea-change in Bush’s Syria policy – but don’t hold your breath 

Oct 9 (PTI) Bush administration should enter into direct negotiations with countries it had shunned so far, including Iran and Syria, according to James Baker, Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan panel reassessing Iraq strategy. But the former American Secretary of State rejected the suggestion for a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq, saying that would invite Iran, Syria and “even our friends in the Gulf” to fill the vacuum. 


The current Iraqi government, he said, is capable of sustaining pace in the war-torn region but “if they think we’re going to leave them, they won’t be able to do it.” “Iraq is capable to doing it if gets the political will,” he said in an interview with ABC news. 


He also rejected a proposal by Senator Joseph R Biden Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to decentralize Iraq and give the country’s three major sectarian groups, the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, their own regions, distributing oil revenue to all, saying it was unworkable. He disagreed with President George W Bush’s policy of not negotiating with Iran and Syria, saying he always believed in talking to the enemies. Stating that he had made 15 trips to Syria when he served under current president’s father, he said it has got to be hardnosed, it’s got to be determined.” “You don’t give away anything, but in my view, it’s not appeasement to talk to your Enemies,” he said.    

Baker told the interviewer that the report of his panel could be available by December but the deadline could slip in to the New Year. The most important thing is to take this thing “out of politics.” 


L’attaque de l’ambassade américaine à Damas aurait été préparée en Arabie saoudite
LE MONDE | 07.10.06 

“Le groupe avait projeté de faire exploser une porte de l’ambassade, de faire irruption à l’intérieur et de tuer tous ceux qui s’y trouvaient, précise l’enquête. Ils avait prévu de diffuser une vidéo, revendiquant l’opération au nom de la Brigade Abou Moussab Al-Zarkaoui.” Zarkaoui, chef d’Al-Qaida en Irak, a été tué en juin dans un raid aérien américain. Pour autant, assure le rapport, ces hommes “n’avaient aucun lien avec des organisations extrémistes en dehors de la Syrie”.  

Comments (2)

t_desco said:

Interview conducted by John Simpson of the BBC with President Bashar al-Asad

This is a transcript of the interview as it was shown on BBC World. It would have been interesting to see a transcript of the complete interview.

The following report is quite remarkable:

Moderate Sunnis in Lebanon fear rise of extremist groups

Political analysts said they’d detected signs that the moderate Sunni leadership was working to reach an accommodation with the radicals (!) – something that might benefit both sides.

The Sunni leadership would benefit, the analysts said, by winning Islamists’ agreement not to attack in Lebanon. It also might be able to depend on the Islamists as an effective armed counterbalance to Hezbollah.

The radicals, meanwhile, would be able to continue their clandestine organizing with little fear of government reprisal.

“The payback is that the state won’t go to war against them, like in Egypt and Jordan,” said el Amin, the al Hayat journalist. “The dozens of guys who went to Iraq came back and are safe in their homes now.”

An al-Qaida presence also might weaken Hezbollah, he suggested. “If al-Qaida is going to do any operation here, it’s going to be against the Shiites, not the peacekeepers,” he said.

(my emphasis)

And at the same time these people accuse Syria of supporting al-Qa’ida, “sending al-Qa’ida over the border”, etc…!

October 9th, 2006, 10:27 pm


ausamaa said:

I still did not get the intention behind the “Muslim Radicals/ Sunni Leadership” in Lebanon report? Where the heck did such an insightfull report originate from, or first appear at?

Does that mean that Harriri Jr. and Fatfat are sleeping with the enemy (the enemy now being: “The dozens of guys who went to Iraq came back and are safe in their homes now) so that “dozens and thier supporters can stand up to Hizbullah and the Shi’eats in Lebanon?

Now Saad Harriri & Co. (refered to as Sunni Modertes I presume) are obviously wet behind the ears, but not insane yet, and his mentor for now being the High Commissioner Feltman & Co. is happily watching all this? And while Fatfat and the Germans are “deligently” watching the borders and the entry ports?? Does not look good for either. Does it?

Or are the little wicked “political Analysists” trying to imply that even Al Qaida prsence is more tolerable in lebanon than Hizbullah’s. And then by extension, that the Lebanese Christians are lost and are in danger in the midest of all muslim oriented this???

Sounds more like a report initiated by a new Israeli intern at the Mossad training school trying his hand on a homework assignement for his Disinformation Warfare 101 class…Where the heck did such an insightfull report originate from, or first appear at?

October 12th, 2006, 10:30 pm


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